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Impact: Mind the Gap

Can we really make a difference in the world?

“I’ve started interviewing for a new job.”

My good friend—a recent transplant to New York—was guzzling his enormous iced coffee. I stopped mid-sip on my soy latte.

“OMG, already? You’ve had your job for less than a year. You have benefits, catered breakfast and lunch, a masseuse on staff, free metro cards and a ridiculous coffee shop on your floor…you have the sweetest deal going for a corporate gig straight out of school. Ever. WHY?”

“Yeah, but I don’t feel like I’m making an impact there. IDK—I just feel like I should be making more of a…difference, ya know?”

Yes, I did know. I understood his sentiment, yet I’m not sure he understood the bigger-picture response that his words triggered inside of me—that we actually are making an impact every day with each interaction we have. We make an impact every time we say something, do something or go somewhere. We make an impact with our presence—mentally, physically, and emotionally. If you recognize that, then the question left to ask is whether you are making a negative impact or positive impact on your realm.

So many of us tend to be closed off to human engagement in our daily life. We tend to make ourselves as small as we can, or as “un-noticeable” energetically, in order to quickly pass through our daily routines, errands, crowds, traffic, with as little friction as possible; with as little conflict as possible. But the truth is, is that we are noticed by those around us. We are noticed, and we do have an impact on those that share our space. I live in New York City, a city so crowded and so anonymous that we are notorious for allowing the biggest celebrities to maneuver around the streets like near-regular citizens. Yet, it is not that people—even famous ones that we all recognize—go unseen, it is that most people are so self-absorbed with their own thoughts, or they are in a massive a hurry, or they are thinking about the past, worried about the future, and just not present enough to take a moment and consciously engage with the city full of people around them that they do see.

We do make an impact.

Every interaction we have leaves an emotional imprint, negative or positive.

However, if you are unable to recognize or feel the impact that you are creating, then it might be due to a gap that exists between who you are and how you present yourself. If you stop and take a totally honest look at yourself, are there things that you do in private, elements of your personality, that you are afraid to do or be in public? This is usually a sure sign that a buffer exists between your inner most self, and the outer self you present to the world—a buffer of insecurity or fear preventing you from truly feeling your impact. Though this division may have begun for many reasons, we all have an opportunity now—a responsibility to our life—to be our whole selves. And for most, it means we must stitch the public and private versions of ourselves back together again. It is this evolution that will allow us to leave our greatest impact in the world.

For me, that schism began with the fractured soul, the shattered heart of childhood trauma. My family suffered an immeasurable loss when I was seven years old, when my sister was killed. It was my first true heartbreak. A fault line that since it wasn’t bridged early enough, eventually became the Grand Canyon of emotional fissures in my soul. It separated my inner being—who I truly was at my core, what I truly stood for, believed and deeply desired—from my outer being—the decisions that I made, the actions that I took, the incomplete persona that I used to live the life (I thought) those around me wanted me to live, and the life my parents needed me to live. By the time I had expended enormous amounts of energy taking it upon myself to make up for the loss of my sister—to be the perfect child, with the perfect grades, who got the perfect Division I NCAA athletic scholarship—I found myself at one of our nation’s finest service academies. And shortly thereafter, blindsided by a world of hurt.

While I had achieved numerous successes leading up to and during my time at the United States Air Force Academy, I had also allowed the gap of misalignment to grow bigger by trying to shove the pain, loss and grief down deep into the darkness of denial. And like a safe with its door cracked open, that chasm was wide enough to let in not one, but two thieves—in the form of fellow USAFA cadets—who violently brutalized my body and stole what was left of my tattered soul. I go into detail about my journey to survive USAFA, and find unanimity, emotional self-defense, in my new memoir, Deep Dark Blue. Suffice it to say that there was a time in my life when that gap—nay, chasm—had gotten so deep that I nearly emotionally bled out and physically died.

I survived, but I needed triage to put myself back together again.

We all have our stories, our painful experiences. Our goal should not be to shelter ourselves from pain, loss, or negative emotion. Not only is it futile to try, but these feelings are our greatest agents for change, our greatest teachers, our greatest catalysts for growth. It is important to recognize what has separated us.

The chasm between our inner beings and outer beings isn’t always as severe as in my experience. However, the first step in bridging any gap is to find out who you are inside. For, in order to be ourselves, we must get to know ourselves. And only then can we fully and profoundly thrive. We must do the work, ask the vital questions like how do we feel in each moment? What lights us up? What do we love? Whom do we love? And most importantly, what do we want? These are the sutures that weave our inner being together with our outer being—our private self with our public persona. And if who we are at our core—the raw and real core—is in sync with how we are living on the outside—with what we are saying and doing—then we are in alignment. And if we are in alignment, then we are living authentically. And honest, genuine authenticity allows us to impact the world with the most powerful force unique to each of us.

Shortly after our coffee date, my good friend asked his boss for a six-week long sabbatical. Shockingly, his company signed off on it! He took advantage of their therapy benefits, and began to explore who he really was, and then what he really wanted. Today he is ready to return to work more his authentic self than he has ever been, and he knows the impact that he will have there, as well as in his personal life, will finally be most powerful to the world, and most wholly felt by him.

Our impact on the world starts inside of us. When we close the gap between our inner and outer selves we align ourselves with the most powerful force we have: our uniqueness. It is this focused, consistent authenticity that makes the most profound impact…an impact felt by all, infinitum.

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